NFL Nation: Reggie Nelson

PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell said he did not have a problem with the hit that left him with a hyperextended right knee and clouded his status for Saturday's AFC wild-card playoff game.

Bell left the Steelers’ 27-17 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday night in the third quarter after safety Reggie Nelson hit him in the knee with his helmet after a 19-yard catch.

“It was a legal hit. It’s football,” Bell said. “It’s a dangerous sport. He got me down the way he could.”

The Steelers did not take issue with the hit after the game even though it might sideline Bell, who led the AFC with 1,361 rushing yards, for their third meeting with the Baltimore Ravens this season.

Bell had run over Nelson earlier in the game when the he tried to tackle Bell high.

“I don’t know why he did that later in the game,” Bell said of the hit that was a direct shot on his knee. “I feel like [defensive backs], a majority of them, they all go for my legs because I’m a bigger guy and they’re kind of smaller guys. To get me to the ground, they usually go for my legs.

“But a lot of times it’s different because I actually got the ball and I’m trying to run and I see them and start preparing for it. It was different this game because I didn’t see him. When I caught it, then he hit me in my legs. That was really the only difference. DBs usually go low on me all the time. There’s not anything new about it.”

After loss, Bengals are 'On to Indy'

December, 29, 2014
PITTSBURGH -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cincinnati Bengals' 27-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers:

'On to Indy:' Two Bengals took a page out of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick's playbook minutes after Sunday night's loss when they cautioned an approaching reporter about the questions they were going to answer. Running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill made it clear they weren't in the mood of discussing the regular-season finale. Instead, they were training their minds and mouths for next Sunday's wild-card playoff game at Indianapolis. "We're on to Indy," both said twice. It was a reference to Belichick's "We're on to Cincinnati" quip that was made the week the Patriots were playing the Bengals, just days after they were embarrassed by the Chiefs, 41-14.

'Time to change it:' Already, the questions about the Bengals' lack of playoff victories are coming. And safety George Iloka has the same response to them as he did two weeks ago about the inquiries referencing the Bengals' struggles in prime time. Before the Bengals beat Denver on Monday and lost at Pittsburgh, they were 2-6 at night. They now are 3-7. "Like I said about the prime time -- if it's annoying, if it bugs you, you've got to change it," Iloka said. "If you don't like it, you've got to change it." The Bengals haven't won a playoff game since the 1990 season and are 0-5 in the postseason under Marvin Lewis.

Nelson's no comment: As players and coaches from both teams were shaking hands moments after Sunday's game, Bengals safety Reggie Nelson and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin exchanged barbs. Nelson hit Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell low at the end of a 19-yard reception in the third quarter, and Bell hyperextended his right knee. Neither wanted to comment much about it after the game. In the Bengals' locker room, Nelson held his ground, rebuffing reporters who tried to sneak in questions about the fracas.

How the Bengals stopped Peyton Manning

December, 23, 2014
CINCINNATI -- Peyton Manning had dominated the Cincinnati Bengals every time he played them.

Not only was the Denver Broncos quarterback 8-0 in his career versus Cincinnati, but he was 3-0 with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions against them in the month of December. He had every reason in the world to believe he was going to roll over them once again, and this time with a national audience watching.

But that didn't happen.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Bengals had a good plan for slowing Peyton Manning on Monday night, and it included constant pressure from the defensive line.
In arguably their best overall performance against a quality opponent this season, the Bengals scratched out a 37-28 win Monday night that put them in the playoffs for a fourth straight year and silenced criticisms about their inability to win in prime time.

Atop the list of contributing factors to Cincinnati's success was stopping Manning. They forced him into throwing four interceptions, the sixth time in his regular season and postseason career that he has done that. It was the first time it happened to him since 2010.

So, what led to it? How did the Bengals stop Manning? With a combination of timely pressures from the defensive line, good play in the secondary, one key late coaching decision, and a Bengals offense that ran the ball like it was supposed to.

Defensive end Wallace Gilberry summed up the defensive line's success by saying the trick was "getting to [Manning] and hitting him."

According to Pro Football Focus, Manning was pressured 13 times. That includes nine quarterback hurries, three quarterback hits and one sack.

"If you let a guy like that settle his feet," Gilberry said, "he's going to make some big plays. We just stayed on him and stayed on him and stayed on him and stayed on him. I'm not sure how many times we hit him or sacked him, but it was enough to cause disruption and to give our guys on the back end time to make plays."

In the secondary, the Bengals rallied in the fourth quarter after a harrowing third that saw Manning lead a furious rally. Down 20-7 at halftime, Manning took the Broncos into the fourth quarter with a 28-27 lead.

It was during that third quarter that veteran cornerback Terence Newman allowed a series of catches, including a 33-yard completion that he also was flagged for defensive pass interference on, and a 46-yard catch. Not long after he gave up the latter of the two deep throws, Newman was replaced by third-year corner Dre Kirkpatrick. In the game's final three minutes, Kirkpatrick intercepted Manning twice, including once on a pass he returned 30 yards for a touchdown that extended the Bengals' tight lead.

"The guys on the back end did an outstanding job, not just in the fourth quarter, but all day," Gilberry said. "They've got big receivers, they're going to make plays. We get that. But it's up to us to limit those plays and that's what we did."

One of the other focuses the Bengals' offense had all week was to run the ball effectively enough that they kept it out of Manning's hands. Cincinnati rushed for 207 yards, marking the second straight game it has gone over the 200-yard mark. More importantly, the time on the ground taking time off the clock led the Bengals to a time-of-possession victory. They held the ball for 31:38, and Denver had it for 28:22.

For a deeper look at what went wrong for Manning on both long and short throws, read this from ESPN Stats & Information.
An examination of what the Cincinnati Bengals must do after their win against the Baltimore Ravens:

There are any number of avenues I could take when outlining what the Bengals need to improve upon this week as they get ready for the Atlanta Falcons. Even though they looked good in Sunday's impressive and gutty come-from-behind 23-16 win, there still were a few areas where the Bengals struggled in the season opener. Let's name a few.

As some players mentioned after the game, there is a slight conditioning issue -- one that they really can't get around right now. It's still warm all over the country as "football weather" hasn't quite arrived. Not to mention, Week 1 is always sluggish for starters who might have been lucky to play a half of football during any one of the preseason games. Suddenly, playing a full 60 minutes can be taxing.

Aside from the conditioning issue, we also saw the Bengals miss a few tackles, miss key blocks in the running game, fail to produce an adequate running game, give up eight third-down conversions on defense, and of course, fail to finish the many promising drives that stalled inside the Ravens' 30, resulting in five field goals for Mike Nugent.

Each of those fixes needs to be made when the Falcons come to Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, but so does this one: The Bengals need to work on the pass rush from their defensive line and bring it to life.

Statistics aside, it was evident that apart from the final drive of the game, the Bengals weren't getting very good pressure from their defensive line. Most of the times they harassed Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco, they did so by sending safeties and linebackers on blitzes. Even the game-sealing sack on Baltimore's last-minute fourth down was sparked by a defensive back's rush. Defensive end Wallace Gilberry might have been credited with half the stop, but when safety Reggie Nelson came through, too, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had nowhere to run and no time to pass.

Consider this: Flacco passed for 345 yards and one touchdown on his 62 passing attempts Sunday. According to ESPN Stats & Information, when he was blitzed -- which occurred on 19 dropbacks -- Flacco was 9-for-17 passing for just 77 yards and an interception. Clearly, the blitzing paid off.

When the Bengals didn't send pressure from the second and third levels and relied on their up-front pass rush, they allowed Flacco to connect with receivers for 268 yards, including the 80-yard touchdown pass that gave them a brief lead late. Flacco's passer rating was more than 40 points higher (82.5) when just the standard rush was sent compared to when the Bengals blitzed (40.6).

One final reason why defensive-line pressure will be important this week when the Falcons come to town? Because Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan was stellar Sunday, too, when he didn't get blitzed. He was 24-for-30 with 362 yards and two touchdowns when the Saints sent a standard rush in the Falcons' overtime win. On the 13 dropbacks in which he was blitzed, Ryan still was good (7-for-12, 86 yards), but he wasn't quite as effective.

CINCINNATI -- Marvin Lewis had to pause for a few minutes and file through his memory bank.

"The last time I talked to Carson," the Cincinnati Bengals head coach said, his eyes drifting as he visibly scanned his mind for the exact moment when he previously corresponded with former Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer, "I guess probably was when we played the Raiders. After that game. I think so."

Aside from one other text-message conversation, Lewis admitted Wednesday afternoon that he hasn't exchanged many formalities with Palmer since the Bengals faced the veteran quarterback when he played for Oakland two years ago. It just hasn't been one of Lewis' top priorities to check in on the quarterback who soured on the team near the end of his tenure, and months before his October 2011 trade to the Raiders. That previous April, the Bengals drafted Andy Dalton, giving a clear sign they were preparing for life after Palmer, as he previously hinted they should.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesCarson Palmer, a former Bengal, has found a home as Arizona's starting quarterback.
So far, that life has been good for the Bengals and for Palmer, who meets his old team in a Week 3 preseason game Sunday night in Arizona.

Last season, his first with the Cardinals, Palmer set a career-high in passing yards and had his highest completion rating since 2007.

"He's gone on, we've gone on and everybody's happy," Lewis said during his Wednesday news conference. "I mean, he's impressive to watch. He's still Carson. That's why it's hard coming in here and every time we look at a quarterback we bring these guys in from the street, man, it's hard to compare."

Added Lewis about Palmer's throwing ability: "It's hard to compare anybody else to [him]. I've never seen anybody like it."

Bengals offensive tackle Andre Smith spent parts of three seasons Palmer was a quarterback in Cincinnati's offense. He remembers the drama associated with Palmer's departure quite well, but he wasn't trying to discuss the inner workings of it. Three times he was asked to divulge his true feelings about Palmer's Queen City finish. All three times, Smith stuck with the same answer.

"I don't think anyone on this team has any bad blood against Carson," Smith said. "It was a situation that came up and he bettered himself in that situation and we bettered ourselves in that situation."

After reaching the playoffs in 2005 and 2009, Palmer grew tired of playing in Cincinnati when the Bengals had an abysmal 4-12 showing in 2010. The No. 1 overall 2003 draft pick told the team that selected him he either wanted out or would simply retire.

Months after Dalton's drafting, Palmer got his wish.

In the three seasons since, Dalton has started all 51 games the Bengals have played. He was handed the starter's role entering the 2011 season and hasn't looked back, leading the organization to three straight playoff appearances, and anchoring a top-10 unit last season. This month, the Bengals committed to Dalton long term, signing him to a six-year extension worth up to $115 million.

"Andy's been doing a great job here leading," said safety Reggie Nelson, who was on the roster when Palmer played for the team. "That's just it. I don't think nobody thinks any different, whether Carson was here or not. Andy's doing a great job leading this team and Carson's doing a great job leading Arizona."

Besides, Nelson added: "It's a business. Things happen."

Aside from exchanging greetings with Palmer, the business the Bengals really hope to concern themselves with Sunday involves winning. They are, after all, 0-2 this preseason.

"Whether [Palmer] is out there or not, we've still got a job to do," Nelson said. "Losing is not something we want to become used to."

Missed tackles teach Bengals D a lesson

December, 12, 2013
CINCINNATI -- When members of the Cincinnati Bengals' defense showed up Wednesday morning to review film from last Sunday's game against the Colts, they were in for a surprise.

Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer only wanted to show them eight plays from the game. That's it. Nothing more. Just eight simple plays out of the 58 they were on the field for.

Only, those eight plays weren't a highlight reel of well-executed stunts and blitzes. They didn't feature any forced turnovers or recovered, either. They were eight plays that told a story of ineptitude the likes of which the Bengals' defense had rarely seen all season. Mostly, the plays featured missed tackles from when the 42-28 win was well in hand. On two of them, defenders were seen grabbing at air and softly driving forearms and shoulders into pass-catchers who managed to eventually find the end zone.

[+] EnlargeIndianapolis' LaVon Brazill
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Bengals defense allowed four second half touchdowns to the Colts.
Let's just say this about the plays Zimmer showed: they didn't put him in the jolliest or most cheerful of holiday moods.

"No, he wasn't," safety George Iloka said, grinning.

Asked to rank Zimmer's anger on a scale from 1 to 100, safety Reggie Nelson replied: "It was off the charts."

Zimmer wasn't very happy. But neither were the Bengals themselves. That's why they believe that film session and the rest of this week's practices will end up serving as important lessons.

"Practice all week, we're going to be a little more focused," Iloka said. "We have to go out there and play better for things to be how we want them to be."

The Bengals want the regular season to end with the overall team sporting a 12-4 record, the No. 2 AFC playoff seed, a first-round bye and a home-field postseason advantage. As a defense, they want to continue generating turnovers, shutting down the run and holding quarterbacks under 300 yards passing. Only two passers -- one of them being the Colts' Andrew Luck -- have gone beyond that mark in 13 games this season.

If Cincinnati's defenders can get back to 60 minutes of fundamentals, but keep the intimidating and physical style that made them a top-10 unit through much of the season, then they ought to accomplish all of that.

"We lost a little bit of [our edge] during the second half last week, so we've got to get it back," head coach Marvin Lewis said. "That's an important thing; to understand that when you have a game in control, keep control of it. That needs to transcend the group."

Cornerback Adam Jones had already digested that understanding on Monday, one day after the second-half collapse.

"Those guys should have scored seven points," Jones said of the Colts. "I'm not saying anything about their offense. They've got a good team and everything, but we gave them 21 points. We'll fix it, though.

"It's good when you win by 14 or 21 points. You can go back and fix those mistakes and it wasn't a loss."

Cincinnati will be hoping to get another big win Sunday night when it travels to Pittsburgh in a game that could come down to defense. Like all AFC North tilts, this one is expected to be a physical battle, even if the Steelers are all but eliminated from postseason contention.

Even the NFL's leading tackler wasn't immune to the missed tackles bug that spread around Cincinnati's defense last week.

"We take a big emphasis on tackling," Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict said. "Especially me, I hate missing tackles. I think I missed two tackles last game. For me, I realized I need to bend my knees more in practice or wrap up in practice."

Speaking of bugs, Burfict didn't get a chance to work on his form tackling Thursday thanks to an illness that had him and two others sidelined. Linebacker James Harrison and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis also missed the workout.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 13

December, 2, 2013
SAN DIEGO -- An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 17-10 win over the Chargers:

Dalton's second half: Paced by a running game that rediscovered itself in the second half, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had his own resurgence of sorts in the final 30 minutes of Sunday's game. After stumbling to a 5-for-10, 41-yard, 21.2-passer rating performance through the first half, he bounced back in the second, completing nine of his final 13 passes and connecting with receivers for 149 yards. He also threw a key third-quarter touchdown and didn't turn the ball over, helping push his end-of-game passer rating to 83.6 -- his highest in five games. His 44.4 QBR also was his best since his career-high 98.9 that came in Cincinnati's 49-9 win over the New York Jets in Week 9. Part of what helped Dalton amass those final numbers was the Bengals' decision to recommit themselves to the run in the last two quarters. Cincinnati rushed for more than 150 yards (164) for the first time since its Week 7 win at Buffalo.

Huber's (healed) left leg: Wednesday, punter Kevin Huber sent a chill through the Bengals' fan base when he appeared on the injury report for the first time this season. He barely practiced the rest of the week after being limited for part of the week by an injury to his left ankle. He kicks with his left leg. Apparently it wasn't feeling too badly. Huber had four punts in the game and sent them an average of 55.5 yards from the line of scrimmage. The first two, 75- and 56-yard blasts, set the tone early. He routinely flipped field position in the game, even pushing the Chargers up against their own goal line with his first one. That subsequent series resulted in San Diego's own need to punt. With the ball in decent field position, the Bengals drove 67 yards for a touchdown on their following possession.

Quiet secondary: It was easy to praise Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict for his strong 13-tackle, play-through-an-injury performance, but he wasn't the only one on the back end of Cincinnati's defense who had a big day. Linebacker Rey Maualuga, who was returning from his own lengthy knee injury, finished with 10 tackles, including a sack. Although he was beaten a couple of times on passes across the middle, he was a run-stopper much of the day, helping plug his share of holes. Along with their linebacker play, the Bengals also had quietly good performances from defensive backs George Iloka and Reggie Nelson, who each forced fumbles. Iloka's ended up preceding the Bengals' final possession of the game -- a nearly five-minute drive that included four first downs and ended with back-to-back kneel-downs.

Winning without Gresham: For the first time this year, the Bengals won a game in which tight end Jermaine Gresham didn't catch a pass. The only other time they even had a game in which Gresham went reception-less, they lost to the Baltimore Ravens. It wasn't as if Cincinnati was trying to completely avoid Gresham, though. He was targeted twice. Since a clear emphasis was being placed on the running game, Gresham ended up factoring in that department instead, helping open holes along the edges for running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard to run right through.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 11

November, 18, 2013
CINCINNATI -- An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 41-20 win over the Browns:

Rey shines again: While linebackers James Harrison and Vontaze Burfict dominated the postgame headlines because of their key turnovers, the third starting member of their unit shouldn't be forgotten. Vincent Rey, appearing in his third game in relief of Rey Maualuga, quietly had 12 total tackles. Only Burfict (15) had more. It marked the second straight game that Rey had double-digit stops, following his 13-tackle performance at Baltimore last week. He now has 30 tackles, three sacks and an interception in the three games he has started since Maualuga was shelved due to a knee injury. Sunday's game likely was Rey's last start for a while, as Maualuga makes his return to the lineup. Before the game, Maualuga was going through agility and ladder drills.

Tone setting: Another unsung defensive hero was safety Reggie Nelson. He finished with nine total tackles and had a timely second-half interception that helped signal the end for the Browns' offense. All throughout the third quarter, the Bengals' defense set a tone that it wasn't going to allow a late-game comeback to take place. Against the Bills earlier this season, they did allow a comeback that ended with the game in overtime. Mike Nugent's 43-yard field goal in the overtime period won that game, though. One of the better tone setters of the second half was cornerback Terence Newman. Although he was beaten on the very first play from scrimmage after halftime -- a 24-yard pass to Josh Gordon -- Newman had two key deflections on that drive, even one on fourth down when Gordon had raced by him.

Sanu sighting -- finally: It took 11 games, but at long last, Mohamed Sanu has scored for the Bengals. After scoring four touchdowns last season, each coming in a three-game stretch, Sanu picked up his first score this year when he caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Andy Dalton in the Bengals' record-setting 31-point second quarter. Three plays before, he got involved in the offense in a slightly different manner when he fielded a lateral from Dalton before chucking the ball downfield for a 25-yard completion to running back Giovani Bernard. The trick play was called at the perfect time. It came on the Bengals' first drive after their first score. Following Sanu's touchdown reception, Cincinnati took a lead it wouldn't relinquish.

Beat the blockers: There was no magic trick, no secret formula to the one blocked punt, one tipped punt and one near-block the Bengals had on their return unit, special teams coach Darrin Simmons said. According to him, and the key players involved, they just "beat the blocker." It was all about speed, quickness and sprinting through the right hole at the right time, they said. Whether you believe that to be the case or not, it is clear the Bengals got into a great rhythm of sprinting past Cleveland's line virtually unabated in an effort to get their hands on Spencer Lanning's punts. After the game, Lanning said he wasn't operating too slowly. He felt the snap and approaches on his kicks were executed well.
Matthew Stafford had looked, kind of, for Calvin Johnson the play before. He was rushed. He threw the ball away and backed his team up with a rare intentional grounding call.

Plus, Detroit's right tackle, Corey Hilliard, injured his knee on the play. Down by seven points and backed up to a third-and-18 with 12 minutes, 10 seconds to go in the game, he stepped into the shotgun.

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsDetroit's Calvin Johnson jumps up to catch a 50-yard touchdown pass in what some players are calling the "best catch" ever.
Later, Detroit coach Jim Schwartz would say what came next was “schemed up.” Except not all of it could have been. No chance at all. Because no one schemes throwing to a receiver in triple coverage, even if it is Johnson.

And no one can realistically expect Johnson to come down with that catch. Yet he did.

Stafford lined up in shotgun, a running back directly to his left. Receiver Kris Durham was wide left and Ryan Broyles wide right. Johnson was in the slot and tight end Brandon Pettigrew was just off the line to the right side.

Then the ball was snapped.

“Rolled out right and they did a great job of playing deep to short (Sunday) with Calvin on the field,” Stafford said. “Held it as long as I could.”

Stafford rolled and actually had time to let Johnson streak down the field. Left tackle Riley Reiff, who had re-entered the game on that play after injuring his right hamstring earlier Sunday, had a good single block on Cincinnati defensive end Michael Johnson.

Center Dominic Raiola and left guard Rob Sims initially held their block as well, giving Stafford time to scan. But Raiola eventually lost his guy, sending Stafford running forward looking downfield.

Around the same time, Johnson -- who had been running just inside the numbers on the right side of the field -- cut inside to the post at the 30-yard line. Cincinnati safety George Iloka looked to pick Johnson up at this point in what appeared to be zone coverage. Iloka, though, could never get in front of Johnson, trailing him from the back the entire way.

Meanwhile, Stafford was running forward with Michael Johnson trailing him and closing fast.

“Matt had to buy a little time in the pocket and, you know, we saw that guy bearing down on him and didn’t know if he was going to be able to get that ball off,” Schwartz said.

He did, releasing the ball at the Detroit 48-yard line toward the end zone. What happened next was the surprising part.

Johnson found some room in the end zone, but was blanketed by Iloka behind him, linebacker Vontaze Burfict just to the left of him and a closing safety, Reggie Nelson, running toward the play and lining up to either intercept the ball or knock it down.

Nelson jumped with one foot instead of two and appeared to almost tip the ball, but Johnson appeared to reach up over him to grab it. He declined to talk with reporters after Sunday’s game.

“Oh man,” said Durham, who was close enough on the play to be the first Lions player to reach Johnson after he caught it. “That was in triple coverage. You’ve just got to say ‘Wow.’

“He’s probably the only person I’ve ever seen that could be able to make that play.”

Stafford didn’t see much of it. Michael Johnson hit him milliseconds after he threw the ball. Stafford’s head was initially down, but he looked up after a few seconds.

“Didn’t see a whole lot of it,” Stafford said. “Saw the very end of it with one of the best catches I’ve ever seen.”

It was one big catch in a day of many large catches for Johnson, who finished with nine for 155 yards and two touchdowns. None, though, as spectacular as his 50-yard grab in triple coverage -- a catch Cincinnati receiver A.J. Green called “unbelievable” and “the best I have ever seen.”

“He was also Megatron yesterday,” Schwartz said Monday, answering a question about Johnson’s health. “He wasn’t Calvin yesterday. He was Megatron yesterday.

“And he did everything he could to get us in position to win that game.”

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 7

October, 21, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 27-24 win over the Detroit Lions:

[+] EnlargeA.J. Green
AP Photo/Paul SancyaA.J. Green caught six passes for 155 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's win over Detroit.
Green's day: As the Bengals' offense has become more diverse, forcing defenses to respect their bevy of playmaking threats, receiver A.J. Green has begun to benefit, too. For the second straight game, Green went for more than 100 yards receiving, catching six passes for 155 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's victory. His very first catch of the game was his lone touchdown reception, and it came on the Bengals' first drive as he put a double-move in single coverage on cornerback Chris Houston and ran by him. Wide open, he ended up sprinting under a pass and going 82 yards for the score. The catch was the 200th of his career, and later in the game he went over the 3,000-yard career mark.

Suh who? Statistically speaking, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh wasn't as big a factor as had been anticipated. One week after hounding Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden (including one hit that resulted in a fine), he was mostly kept away from Dalton. Suh recorded one fourth-quarter sack on the Bengals quarterback, and arguably, it was the Lions' biggest defensive play. On third down, the pocket collapsed as Suh and the rest of the Lions' defensive line went hard toward Dalton and got better penetration than they had the whole game. It resulted in Suh grabbing Dalton as he went by him, and bringing him down for the game's only sack for either team. The sack resulted in a Kevin Huber punt, which was downed with 1:43 remaining at the Lions' 6. Suh and Dalton entered the game with a bit of a history after Suh had body slammed the then-helmetless quarterback on a post-play hit during a preseason game in Cincinnati's last trip to Ford Field.

Third-down woes: Cincinnati's defense allowed the Lions to convert on 13 of 19 third downs. Ahead of Monday night's game between the Vikings and Giants, that was the league's worst conversion rate of the weekend. The Bengals also had one of the highest third-down play totals among defenses in the league to this point in the weekend. Only New England's defense faced more third-down plays (21). Miami also had 19. Players and coaches alike were adamant after the game about cleaning up the third-down issues, even though, with the game on the line on Detroit's last drive, the Bengals got a big stop when safety Reggie Nelson forced Matthew Stafford to throw an incomplete pass that led to a punt, which set up the game-winning field goal.

'Special' teams: Carlos Dunlap was set on getting his hands on the football during David Akers' late second-quarter field goal attempt. At another point this season, he had come close to a block but didn't get it. This time around, Dunlap got the big block for the Bengals, sparking a special-teams uprising. In addition to his block, the Bengals had key punts from Huber, and Mike Nugent's second straight game-winning field goal.
DETROIT -- When Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Terence Newman made it back to the sideline after the Lions' first-quarter touchdown Sunday, he was given some of the hardest news he's heard all season.

"I lost it," Newman said.

He didn't say much about what exactly his losing it entailed. He didn't have to.

Newman had been told one of his teammates, a veteran player who he has come to know quite well and grow even fonder of, had just gone down with an injury whose severity is not yet immediately known. That player, seven-year vet Leon Hall, was dealing once again with an Achilles injury. For that reason, there was very little reason for Newman to try to hold it together.

"It's just tough," Newman said of Hall's injury following Cincinnati's 27-24 win. "He's one of the best in the league, you know? So to have one of the best corners in the league go down? It's tough. Especially when he's your brother. We all spend a lot of time together.

"It just sucks."

That, it does.

Hall's injury leaves the Bengals wondering what's next? Where do they turn from here? Who will pick up the mantle and take over where Hall left off?

Right now, the easy answer is for Cincinnati to look at its bench. After all, that's what the Bengals were forced to do Sunday when they had three quarters to play and couldn't snap their fingers, miraculously summoning someone off the street to add to their depth. In fact, when it comes to depth, from a talent and numbers standpoint, cornerback actually is one of the team's deepest positions. It's so deep that coach Marvin Lewis is quick to point out that he has a team full of "defensive backs."

What Lewis means is that he has safeties and cornerbacks who are so versatile that they can play either position. Players like Chris Crocker and Taylor Mays have performed multiple duties in their opportunities this season, and probably will even more now that Hall is hurt for what could be a long period of time.

"You can't replace somebody like Leon," safety Reggie Nelson said. "But somebody has to step up. One of our young dudes has to step up. That's something that [defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer] and those guys are going to have to look at and see who can go to battle for us."

In the event the Bengals don't make any external moves, they won't have far to turn when attempting to set their 46-man active roster ahead of next week's showdown against the Jets. In addition to having Crocker, potentially Mays and Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick at cornerback, the Bengals also have Brandon Ghee and Chris Lewis-Harris who can be moved around for added depth. While Crocker is most likely to take on Hall's slot coverage duties, Jones and Kirkpatrick have filled in at times this season, as well. Ghee and Lewis-Harris were among the inactives this week, but could have that status changed next week, if need be.

Hall's injury is his second of the season, coming two weeks after he returned from a hamstring injury that kept him out of two games. It's also his second potentially major ailment in three years. During November of the 2011 season, he tore his left Achilles and was lost for the remainder of the year. Sources told ESPN's Bob Holtzman that it is believed Hall ruptured his right Achilles this time.

Locker Room Buzz: Cincinnati Bengals

October, 20, 2013
DETROIT -- Observed in the locker room after the Cincinnati Bengals' 27-24 win over the Detroit Lions:

Jokes on who? Like we wrote earlier this weekend, Bengals receiver A.J. Green and Lions wideout Calvin Johnson share a unique friendship. In front of his locker, Green was asked to share his thoughts on his colleague's impressive, high-leaping, 50-yard touchdown catch over triple coverage. "That was amazing, man," Green started to say. Someone nearby wasn't amused. Bengals safety Reggie Nelson, one of the three players who were beat by the 6-foot-5 receiver blurted out to reporters, "Oh, y'all trying to be funny?"

Not funny miss: For the record, Nelson was joking. His coach, Marvin Lewis, wasn't in a comedic mood during his postgame news conference when he called out officials who forced him to challenge a pivotal fourth-quarter incompletion. "That's one that shouldn't be missed," Lewis said. "That was an easy one for the seven guys on the field to see." Officials originally awarded the Lions' Joique Bell with a catch when he actually didn't possess it.

Hurt for Hall: Bengals cornerback Terence Newman said he and Nelson nearly cried on the sideline when they learned fellow corner Leon Hall suffered his second Achilles injury in three years. Lewis called the injury "significant."

Bengals declare DB trio inactive

September, 29, 2013
CLEVELAND -- Cincinnati's secondary, it appears, will have its hands full against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

As had been anticipated for much of the week, about an hour and a half before the game, the Bengals declared a trio of injured defensive backs inactive. Cornerbacks Leon Hall and Dre Kirkpatrick and safety Reggie Nelson won't participate after trying all week to overcome respective hamstring injuries. Kirkpatrick has now missed the past two games, although he practiced Friday for the first time since getting hurt during the Bengals' Week 2 win against Pittsburgh.

Hall and Nelson were injured at the end of last week's win against the Green Bay Packers.

Adam Jones will take Hall's spot on the field at cornerback, and Taylor Mays will move into Nelson's spot at safety. After bouncing back from his own injury last Sunday, Jones played nearly every snap against the Packers. He'll likely be backed up by Brandon Ghee, who rejoined the team this week after being out the last six weeks with a concussion. Mays likely will be backed up by veteran Chris Crocker, who was re-signed earlier this week.

Along with the defensive backs, defensive end Margus Hunt also was listed on the inactives. It's the fourth straight game he's missed.

The Browns will be without their former starting quarterback, Brandon Weeden. Replaced last week by Brian Hoyer, a hometown kid who will be making his first career start at FirstEnergy Stadium, Weeden will miss his second straight game.

While Weeden will be out, kicker Billy Cundiff, who had a hamstring injury, will participate in Sunday's game for the Browns.

Here is the full list of inactives for the Bengals and Browns:

Bengals: S Reggie Nelson, CB Leon Hall, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, RB Rex Burkhead, G Mike Pollak, G Tanner Hawkinson, DE Margus Hunt

Browns: QB Brandon Weeden, LB Quentin Groves, OL Martin Wallace, OL Shawn Lauvao, TE Keavon Milton, DL Billy Winn, LB Jabaal Sheard

Fines signal officiating mistakes

September, 27, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- When players are fined for hits that were not penalized during the game, it’s essentially an admission of an officiating error.

For the second straight week, that applied to a Green Bay Packers' opponent.

On Friday, the NFL announced it fined Cincinnati Bengals safety George Iloka $15,000 for his unpenalized hit during the first quarter of Sunday’s game that left Packers tight end Jermichael Finley with a concussion.

A league spokesman said Iloka was fined for “unnecessarily striking a defenseless player in the head and neck area.”

Finley could not return to the game, and his status is unknown for the Packers’ next game, following their bye, against Detroit on Oct. 6.

That fine came a week after Washington Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather was fined $42,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Packers running back Eddie Lacy, who also was forced to leave the game with a concussion. Lacy did not play against the Bengals. Like in the case with Iloka, the game officials did not call a penalty on Meriweather.

Also on Friday, the league announced that Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict was fined a total of $31,000 for two infractions against the Packers -- one that was called a penalty and one that was not. He was docked $21,000 for “unnecessarily striking a defenseless player (Packers receiver James Jones) in the head and neck area” and another $10,000 for “striking” Packers tight end Ryan Taylor in the groin area. Burfict was not flagged for striking Taylor, who was penalized but not fined after he retaliated against Burfict.

Two other Packers players who were called for personal fouls -- linebacker Nick Perry and cornerback Tramon Williams -- were not fined. Neither was Bengals safety Reggie Nelson for his roughing the passer penalty against Aaron Rodgers, nor defensive end Michael Johnson for hitting Rodgers low, which also wasn’t penalized.

Bengals DB trio listed as doubtful

September, 27, 2013
CINCINNATI -- Just when the Bengals secondary was in need of a little good news, the unit got it Friday morning when second-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick returned to practice for the first time in more than a week.

The defensive back had been out with a hamstring injury since the Bengals' win over the Pittsburgh Steelers two Mondays ago. Without him last weekend against the Packers, the Bengals rotated three cornerbacks, Leon Hall, Terence Newman and Adam Jones. Hall and Newman were both banged up in last Sunday's 34-30 win and either completely missed or were limited in practices this week. Newman, it appears, will be good to go this Sunday when the Bengals face the Browns in Cleveland.

Hall may be a different story, though. He and safety Reggie Nelson missed their third straight practice Friday. They've been sidelined since the win over Green Bay with hamstring injuries. Typically, the odds of playing aren't in the favor of injured players who miss Friday workouts. That doesn't mean neither will dress later this weekend, but there is a high chance they may not.

Coach Marvin Lewis didn't close the door on either player Friday, but the probability of either playing appears slim. Both were listed, along with Kirkpatrick, as doubtful for the weekend. We'll know their official status Sunday when the Bengals announce their inactives.

Here's how the rest of the Bengals' injury report looks entering the weekend:

DOUBTFUL: CB Leon Hall (hamstring), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (hamstring), S Reggie Nelson (hamstring), G Mike Pollak (knee)

PROBABLE: OT Anthony Collins (knee), CB Brandon Ghee (concussion), RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (ankle), LB James Harrison (illness), CB Terence Newman (knee)